Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Halloween Frights

Helen here.

I grew up in an old house. I’m talking brick exterior, high ceilings, cracked plaster walls, the whole shebang. It was actually a rectory built in 1905. We had a full attic complete with creaky wooden floors and the occasional flying bat. With uneven cement floors and walls that seeped, our basement was right out of that ending scene in Silence of the Lambs. We even had a hidden staircase off the kitchen. If ever there was a fitting place for ghost hauntings, my childhood house was it.

Amazingly, while I was growing up, I don’t remember feeling nervous or afraid, even when I’d lie in bed in the dark and hear the old walls settling in for the night. In fact, I relished the opportunity to watch scary movies in that house, especially when no one else was home, which didn’t happen often with eight kids in the family. When it did, I was in pure heaven.

There was only one time I remember being truly frightened in that house.

I’m laying in bed and wake up in the middle of the night. A strip of moonlight slashes through my window, and the shadow of the branches of a towering Boxelder tree shift on my bedroom floor. Creeped out, I glance around. There’s a person standing by the door. He doesn’t move, doesn’t say anything. I’m too scared to cry out.

Long minutes pass while I pretend to be asleep, thinking this will save me from certain death. Still, he never moves. This murderer is really patient. When I finally summon the nerve to sit up and take a better look, it turns out the menacing man at the door is really a shirt hanging on a hanger.

Something similar happened when I took a trip a three-week trip out east with two girlfriends. It was right out of college, so we couldn’t afford many hotel rooms. We camped much of the time. Anyway, we’re in New Brunswick, Canada, on our way to Nova Scotia. It’s early June and the campground is empty, and I mean truly deserted. We were the only campers in the entire park. We made a fire, ate supper, turned in early.

Yes, there was alcohol involved, but that’s beside the point.

I’m sound asleep at the edge of the tent, when Kendall, safely ensconced in the middle, whacks me, really hard, and whispers, “There’s someone outside our tent!”

Bleary eyed, I look up. Sure enough, there’s a huge man shadow looming down at us. She whacks Maureen, whispers again. Now the three of us are awake and about peeing in our pants. Bold Kendall—in the middle, remember?—suddenly says, “Who’s out there?”

Nothing. All we hear is the wind rustling through the tops of the big oaks.

Suddenly that hulking shadow morphs into a different shape. I start laughing.

Kendall’s indignant. “What’s so funny?”

“It’s a tree!”

Clearly, my imagination has a tendency to run off on its merry own way. I think many of us lean in that direction.

What I don’t get is why? Why do we love Halloween? Why are campfires the best place to tell spooky stories? Why do we love scaring ourselves?

Got a favorite scary story you’d like to share?

Happy Halloween, everyone!


Betina Krahn said...

My theory about the Halloween Delight is that we get an emotional kick from being scared (including physical sensations) that can't be matched by anything else. Plus-- we humans have always had a sense that there's something more "out there" than we really know.

Some of my favorite scares came at summer camp while sitting around the campfire listening to spooky stories. It must be the "tribal memory" encased in our DNA. . . stories from millenniums past, told around thousands of years of campfires. Something very elemental about it.

And fire has always had a mystical aura about it, even now that we know it's just super-rapid oxidation. Somehow the scientific explanation just doesn't capture the warmth and wonder of it.

Personally, closet doors were my youthful terror. (Thanks to my older sister and her ghost-story-telling friends!) I could always see them moving in the semi-dark and was sure they hid monsters. Even as an adult, I couldn't go to bed until the closet doors were all shut. Strangely, not a problem these days. I kinda like the dark and could care less about closet doors. Go figure.

Helen Brenna said...

Adrenaline rushes - that could explain it.

You're not alone on that closet door, thing, Betina. My daughter had to have all the doors shut, too. But she loved the Disney movie Monsters Inc.

Cindy Gerard said...

My big fear was of snakes under my bed. Yup. Don't ask me why. We lived in an older house too but not a creaky one. My bedroom was on the second floor - how a snake could have slunk it's way up there wasn't something I contemplated. I just knew that if I let my foot hang out over the edge of the bed one was sure to bite me. And of course, it would be poisonous and I would die.
What was up with that???

Helen Brenna said...

Oh, good one, Cindy. I'd forgotten all about under the bed. Only I had alligators under mine! In Minnesota!

lois greiman said...

Gotta admit, I can't really understand Halloween, cuz I realllllly trullllly gets scared of scary movies etc. Sometimes I'll be jittery and disjointed for weeks. I can't get over them, can't move beyond. I'm the same with sad movies or events. Emotions seem to hit me a little harder than others sometimes.

Kathleen Eagle said...

The scary movies I grew up with weren't all that scary, really. Giant insects were big, and even a 9-yr-old could tell that they were enlarged and didn't fit with the people. I loved going to the Sat Matinee and shrieking over the Giant Praying Mantis with the slime dripping from its mouth. My mother made me take my little sister one time, even though I told her she was way too young. Sure enough, Jill started bawling and the Base (AF--a kid could get a ticket and popcorn for a quarter) theater manager made me call Mama, which meant I had to go home and miss the end of the fright fest. Boy, was I mad.

I think Hitchcock's "The Birds" was the first movie that really scared me. I liked the Vincent Price horror movies, especially those based (Hollywood loosely) on Poe.

Debra Dixon said...

I think we like confining the scariest things to one night a year. We only have to be fully vigilant one night a year. (g) We can get our scares over with within the formal structure of the ghost story campfire. We know we're going to be scared. We prepare ourselves for the unknown and then are so relieved it was all in fun.

I saw a documentary last night about Halloween.

Halloween was subtly changed by Christianity to rid it of the pagan rituals. Replacing bit by bit the original reasons for the festival.

And the current big resurgence in Halloween is because the kids of the 50's and 60's hated leaving Halloween behind as adults and made it such a big deal for their kids so they could still participate. So Halloween mushroomed into the 2nd biggest retail season, following only Christmas the documentary said.

That surprised me.

I do remember running wild as a kid in the late 60's and trick-or-treating for hours and hours with my block buddies. We'd go home, change costumes and hit the streets again. There must have been a posse of 10 of us.

Betina Krahn said...

Okay-- what's your favorite Halloween candy? To give and to get?

Me? I'm a Snickers, Milky Way, Three Musketeers, Hershey Bar, Nestle Crunch kinda girl. I like a mouthful of chocolate and those "fun size" candy bars are the best.

My honey, however, is a Tootsie Roll fanatic from way back and insisted on Tootsie pops and Dots and Tootsie Roll packs.

We compromised and got both for the T-or-T'ers in our neighborhood. But we also threw in some "Skittles" and "Starburst" because our own kids loved them. Now we're overflowing with candy!

What's your favorite? And do you remember the houses on your street who always gave out "homemade" treats you didn't like and threw away as soon as you got home?

Anybody else love candy corn?

Cindy Gerard said...

My FAVORITE were popcorn balls!! Yum yum. I can almost taste them now just thinking about them. Is that a lost art or do mom's still make them? I know I don't. Don't think I've had one since I was a kid. Big sign.

Helen Brenna said...

Not your holiday, Lois. I get it.

Kathy, I so remember the first time I'd seen The Birds. I was scared to death. Loved it.

It's interesting how not scary it is now. We've become so immune that those old movies seem plain silly.

Deb, that makes sense - one night. I get that too.

Changing costumes!! You bad girl, you! Wish I'da thought of that. hehehe

Anything chocolate is my favorite. Take Five, anyone? pretzels, chocolate, peanuts, caramel. Mmm, mmm, mmm.

Popcorn balls are hard to make, Cindy. I think that's why we don't see them much anymore. Plus, the homemade treats get thrown in the trash.

Candy corn ... that's not candy, that's ... that's ... I don't know what it is. People desperately trying to get a serving of veggies?

Susan Kay Law said...

I love candy corn, too. Not allowed to keep it in the house.

I can't watch scary movies or read scary books. Can't sleep. Too much imagination. (Of course, the news has the same effect on me. Worse, actually.)

It's an end of an era at our house. My husband, who travels a lot, is ALWAYS home to take the boys out on Halloween. Been doing it for 23 years.

This year, our last (10 years old) announced he's going with this friends. My poor husband like someone just stole his candy.


flchen1 said...

I so agree on the closet doors, even now ;) I absolutely avoid watching anything that even hints at spooky/scary because then I can't sleep... I confess that once I had the worst time getting to sleep when my husband happened to be out of town and I foolishly watched an episode of (don't laugh) Buffy. (Yes, I *know* it's not real...)

And I agree--candy corn is not candy, that's for sure. Chocolate is good, and fruity things are OK (Skittles, gummy stuff) but for some reason I really dislike licorice stuff (Good-n-Plenty, for instance).

Changing costumes is genius! Although today, I'm not sure I have it in me even to make it out once tonight with the kids (just survived the school party and parade and would dearly love a nap!) ;)

Helen Brenna said...

Susie, we didn't do pumpkins this year at my house. That's a first in almost 20 years!

Buffy ... okay, flchen, I won't laugh. Promise. Really. No, really, I'm not laughing.